All about the Westovian Theatre Society - Pier Pavilion South Shields

The 1950's to 1980's

After the war productions varied between two to four per year with a highlight in 1952 of five productions. Most were held in Stanhope Road School Hall, as they had been from the late 1930's, with pre-show and interval music on the piano by Jessie Hare and coffee in the interval supplied by the Ladies of the society and any announcements made in front of curtains by the House Manager.

In 1948 the G.&.S. society had obtained the use of St. Aidan's Hall and the Westovians came to an agreement with the G.&.S. to use that venue for most productions starting in March 1949 with the production of 'When we are Married'. Apart from the occasional show at the end of The Denville Players summer season this became the usual venue. St. Aidans was very cold and after a little difficulty over heating in the dressing rooms, with the then incumbent the Reverend Laws, the shows were transferred totally to the Pier Pavilion in 1959.

During this period Members Evenings were held in the Dorset Cafe in Ocean Road using the upstairs room with Christmas Parties in the Sea Hotel. Rehearsals up to 1950 were held in peoples homes especially those with large rooms. From 1950 with the purchase of Westovian House much time was spent by members and juniors in cleaning and re-decorating as well as the current productions of that time. In the early 1950's a musical 'Pretty Polly' was written specially by Joe and Heather Ging and was the first taste of this type of production. A Pantomime was then written and produced by Angus McGill, who was on the reporting staff of The Shields Gazette as well as a Westovian member.

The first of the current range of pantomimes was Cinderella in January 1965 which was a re-run of Angus McGill's earlier version, with Maureen Stokes as Cinderella, Jennifer Allen as Prince Charming, Jeff Davison and Harry Deakin as the Ugly Sisters, Ken Dunn as Buttons, Helen Charlton as Fairy Godmother and Maureen Ainley as the Apprentice Fairy. This was apparently done on a tight budget as the 'coach' turned out to be a pram pushed by Ken Denn and Alan Woodrow as 'Steptoe and Son' and as the curtain opened with Cinders in a pathetic scene scrubbing the floor, she was reduced to laughter, as the other curtain stuck closed, and Harry Deakin held it open while requesting a safety pin from the audience.

The prime reason for starting pantomimes on a yearly basis was, as now, to pay the bills. Profits from plays had been eclipsed by £163.17 raised in a Jumble Sale held at Westovian House, A fact that Helen Charlton in 'Lady Bracknell' fashion was wont to note. The running costs of the society, particularly since the purchase of the house were outstripping income and the coffers were bare. This was also caused by the more professional outlook of the society at this time with better sets, not just curtain ones and hiring of costumes which needed to be paid for and which had not previously been a problem.

John James the then chairman had called an extraordinary meet ing to discuss the problem after Midsummer Night's Dream made a loss of 17 shillings, even though the show had been a success from the production point of view and the costumes and set excellent More productions were needed that were up to the standard that had already been attained, but also needed to be profitable, and as five productions had been successfully presented in 1966 and again in 1968 this was the beginning of the six Senior productions per year in 1969 which apart from minor hicupps has been the norm ever since.

1967 saw the start of alterations to the house with a Green Room Club with bar upstairs, a committee room and properties cum costumes room in the attic as well as re-decorating the rehearsal room downstairs. After much work to get planning permission before the actual hard work could begin the scheme came to fruition and was shown to advantage in 1968. The sixties saw the Pier Pavilion being used more and more by the society as the number of professional shows diminished and members like Ken Dunn and Alan Woodrow became part of the Amateur Stage Council Management Committee which liaised with the council entertainment's staff for bookings at the Pier Pavilion. This led to a lease to the Amateur Stage Council in 1972 who then ran the theatre on behalf of the South Shields Council until 1975. During the early seventies and up to 1977 when the Pier Pavilion was condemned all sorts of money making schemes were tried, a number of jumble sales were held in the house which turned into family social events, most of the children became young Westovians under the tutelage of Maureen Stokes and Michael Gallagher presenting such shows as 'Joseph' in house.

Ray Spencer was one of the juniors and became the pantomime comedian, a position he held until he left the society. At this time with thoughts of owning a theatre, the committee decided, after many past midnight meetings, that it would be a good idea to restructure the society to help efficiency. This was done by having a Production Committee with chairman and vice chairman who would also serve on an executive committee and together with it's members could look after the productions. A Business Committee to look after the fabric of our buildings together with the provision of facilities for productions with a chairman and vice chairman also serving on the executive committee.

Thus the executive, comprising of these 4 members and the officers, would ratify the two committee decisions and co-ordinate policy. Also this was a time of revival in competing at Drama Festivals, from 1976 to 1979 at Tynemouth Priory Theatre, where Michael Gallagher won a commendation and Roger Morgan the Sid Bilton Trophy for best male actor. We also competed at Consett in 1979 but with the responsibility of now running our own theatre we stopped in 1980. It must be said that certain members drove us all mad pushing for the re-furbishment in 1976 together with Alan Woodrow and the committee, but the results spoke for themselves and later the second phase in 1981 gave us better back stage facilities, even if they now seem antiquated. Ken Allen was at it again, pushing for extensions in the early 1990's, and the studio opened in 1996 together with the new entrance, workshop and disabled facilities and has been seen as an asset Some of the problems encountered in the production of plays were remembered by Helen Ironside such as teaching Eddie McNamee to play the piano for 'And a Nightingale Sang' in 1984, using sticky letters on the keys, also helping Maureen Stokes to play a tune on the harp for The Exorcism in 1982.

During this time we have had many notable social events, fancy dress, beetle drives, treasure hunts as well as the established annual dinner dances. These have been arranged by many people over the years who have taken time away from productions, or as well as, to give much pleasure to members of the society. Iris Johnson started, what is now the annual Carol Night, in Westovian House with Edna Lawson accompanying the 'Carols by Candle Light' for the first year and then Brian Main and George Green played the organ and the following Year the Salvation Army Junior Band took over and have been with us ever since.

Mention must be made of what became 'The Annual Ogle Barbecue' and it's associated Cricket Match which Barry and Ann hosted for a number of years and enjoyed by us all. We have had fund raising events, Bingo, Blind Cards, Darts matches, Jumble sales, Weekly number draws which probably are not known about by newer members as we now concentrate on productions to raise the cash to pay the bills, but I am sure if the need arose the spirit would still be willing to pull the stops out. Having said that, like all societies, more new members are needed especially bringing skills that can be utilized such as woodwork, painting, dress-making, retailing, publicity - the list is endless for a Theatre Society which needs so many talents as well as new acting and production talents to carry on to the next century.

The Juniors had been left, at the beginning of the eighties, up in the air with only the pantomime for any hope of stage work, until Carrie Wilson started arranging workshops at regular meetings together with social events such as Barbecues on the beach each summer. After Carrie could no longer take them, there was the usual hiatus until they were started up again with regular meetings in 1994 thanks to who managed to conscript Dale Meeks and Karen Stothard to help. Since then they have had a least one production per year and often two and once again are over-subscribed. Then Michael Gallagher took up the challenge of the Juniors as he did in the 1970's. Latterly Graham Overton has taken up the challenge.

The greatest change from those early years is the amount of work now needed to support amateurs, presenting productions in a professional manner, whilst the need for directors and actors to present eight shows per year has certainly made much work for the Production Committee. During all the time the society has been in existence there have been dramas off stage as well as on, but this is to be expected with talented and hard working extroverts who perform or produce artistic masterpieces for the public eye. Having our own theatre has shown the need for the Business Committee, not only keeping the building in good repair but also providing more modern facilities for those acting in the shows. What we need for the next century are more members to carry on the work of their predecessors to keep the productions rolling for another 90 years.